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Antonio Conte says Tottenham failed to cope with the pressure of being fourth against Brighton and Brentford last month, and believes his players will only develop a winning mentality when they have experienced the “drug” of silverware.
Spurs failed to have a shot on target in both the 1-0 home defeat to Brighton and 0-0 draw at Brentford, as they squandered a three-point lead over rivals Arsenal in the race for Champions League football.
Conte's side now trail the Gunners by two points ahead of this weekend's visit to quadruple-chasing Liverpool and they could be five points adrift going into the north London derby on Thursday, if Arsenal beat Leeds and they lose at Anfield this weekend.
“It can happen in one or two games in a row, and you can struggle,” Conte said. “This can happen for many reasons. Maybe sometimes the pressure has started to become stronger.
“And you need to start to get used to this type of pressure because before the two games against Brighton and Brentford we were behind the others. Then we got into the third and fourth places and we tried to defend that position.
“But I think this team and this group of players are improving with every aspect, including to manage the pressure.
“In my opinion, you gain the winning mentality and you become a winner in the moment that you start to win,” Conte added.
“A lot of people speak about, 'winning mentality, winning mentality', but you only start to get the winning mentality when you start to win.
“Because when you start to win you understand that the work that you did brought this result. When you start to win, winning becomes a drug for you and you want to repeat it. You want to have this fantastic moment, to celebrate, to feel in this moment that you are the best.
“In the same moment this makes you stronger because when you win it means you are the best. When you know that you are the best, you are feeling your belief starting to rise. This is important, because when you are a winner and you start the game, you know that at the end, sooner or later, you are going to win the game.”
Spurs have beaten Manchester City twice this season and drew 2-2 with Liverpool in December but Conte dismissed the suggestion that his side rises to the occasion in the biggest games but struggles to lift themselves for more modest opponents, pointing to their four defeats to Chelsea this season.
“No, because I can tell you we played against Chelsea four times and lost every time - this comparison is not right,” he said. “We lost four times against Chelsea. Chelsea are the same level as Liverpool and City and I think it is not [true] for this reason.
“For sure, when you play again this sort of team, the pressure is very high, but you also have to enjoy this sort of game because you know you are playing against a really strong team and that this type of progress you have done in these months.
“In this aspect, it will be very important not only to get the points, but also to understand which is our level - the level we are reaching in this kind of game - and also to understand this type of monster.”
Meanwhile, Conte has admitted Spurs were interested in signing Luis Diaz before he joined Liverpool in January but suggested he was happy they ended up with Dejan Kulusevski instead.
“We knew he was a top player," Conte said of Diaz. “I think Paratici tried to see the possibility to sign him.
“But in the same way, we signed Kulusevski and to see the capacity of this player to come into our team, like Rodrigo Bentancur. For us these two signings were very important because the team has improved in quality.
“When there is an important player, it is important to try to sign him because you know a top player will improve your team and the quality of your squad. If you want to win something, for sure you need players at the top, not medium level players.”